Keep Knoxville Beautiful is a local organization devoted to just what their name would imply. Their mission statement indicates that they love all things “clean, green and beautiful.” To keep it clean, they organize major litter cleanups, support efforts to that end by smaller groups and educate area children. To keep it green, they offer a recycling vehicle for use by any group who requests it and they educate area children in that arena, as well. They also sponsor “beautification mobs,” and have started a graffiti abatement program.
The graffiti abatement program might be of interest to some of you who own downtown properties. The group will provide a kit which basically contains everything you need to remove graffiti. City Council member Marshall Stair was instrumental in launching this program.
They also serve as an advisory resources for difficult to remove graffiti. Additionally, they are organizing a “blitz” day for this spring to target an impacted neighborhood to remove graffiti. They are also working with local artist Denise Stewart-Sanabria to offer murals to positively replace graffiti in areas where it continues to return.
Other than our graffiti issue, what does all this have to do with downtown? The group recently held their Orchid Awards event at the Standard. The annual program recognizes successful efforts at beautification around the city. Downtown didn’t sweep the awards, but it was very close. Contemporary Women’s Health won the “New Architecture” award and it’s located out west. The “Outdoor Space award went to Sansom Sports Complex and the Town of Farragut Outdoor Classroom. Otherwise, it’s all downtown.
The award for “Redesign/Reuse” went to two very deserving projects, each of which I’ve mentioned here. Oakwood Elementary School (232 E. Churchwell) was falling in on itself when Rick Dover purchased it and re-purposed it to a senior living center. I wrote about and photographed it three years ago when the construction was just beginning. It’s an incredible transformation and has gone from empty, blighted property to a beautiful home to senior citizens. You can see a full tour of the building before renovations here.
White Lily Flour was an institution for many years. When the factory was closed several years ago, what remained was a very large building with no clear purpose. Enter David Dewhirst and the property, now known as White Lily Flats, is not only beautiful, but is filled with residents. The cherry on the project to me, was the unveiling of an attached building with unique plaster and brick designs. I only know of a couple of others like it in the city. You can see a tour of the building before renovations (November 2011) and of the apartments after the renovation (November 2014).
The winner in the restaurant/cafe/bar/brewery category was Babalu (412 S. Gay). Given the previous condition of the J.C. Penney building, this one is hard to argue. It’s gone from being a shell with a facade in need of love. And did it find it! It’s now one of the most beautiful facades on Gay Street and Babalu did an excellent job with their build-out. The entrance is attractive and their outdoor seating is surrounded by a herb garden in flower boxes. Very appealing.
The Public Art award went to a project that not only beautified, but added to our health: The Bringing Tap Back Water Refill Stations. They are all over, but the one on Market Square was designed by Brenda Mills. In addition to Mills, other artists receiving recognition were Adrienne Schwarte and Denise Stewart-Sanabria. The Environmental Stewardship Award was given to the WROL building, the most visible tenant of which is Coolato Gelato.
Finally the Mary Lou Horner Beautification Award was given to the Knoxville Museum of Art for their tremendous efforts at upgrading and cleaning their building along with building and opening the north garden.
The East Tennessee Community Design Center served as judges. The pace of change is so rapid in our city that it’s easy to move constantly to the “next big thing,” and not give appropriate pause to recognize jobs well done. This is that pause.